Forestry Faculty Ensured Field Studies Course Continued Despite Limitations

Professors David Rothstein and Dave MacFarlane prepare students for at home field study

Student measuring a tree in the woods

Professors David Rothstein and Dave MacFarlane took extra measures to ensure students were able to complete the Forestry Field Studies course this summer during the governor’s “stay home, stay safe” order.

Since a field-based course would have been a challenge to implement through solely online modules, Rothstein and MacFarlane had to get creative. Field kits were mailed to students, containing DBH tape, cruz-all, measuring tape, chaining pins, a soil pH test kit, Don Dickmann’s Forest Communities of Michigan book and a wildflower field guide.

Instructions were delivered via D2L, Desire 2 Learn, which is a cloud-based online learning management system available to all MSU students and faculty. The video conferencing system Zoom was also utilized for meetings, presentations, online lectures and discussions.

One student found the online portions “surprisingly very effective” and shared that both Rothstein and MacFarlane were available and prompt to respond to questions. Though understandably disappointed to not be able to experience the field tour physically, students did feel they were able to learn key points and expand on their existing knowledge of ecological interpretation.

Students selected a local forest stand for their individual project that they were able to access easily and safely. Students enjoyed this project, with one commenting, “I found it quite fun collecting and analyzing my own data for a forest of my choosing.” Another was able to recruit family members as assistants as she navigated and collected samples for analysis.

Since students were on their own in their local forests, one student mentioned, “going out on my own and collecting the data we needed I feel was a great simulation of a project that you would work on in your career as a professional forester.”


One issue with this method of instruction one student pointed out, was the sheer volume of work that varied week by week. One week alone included creating maps, 20 plot points, and collecting and analyzing 20 soil samples, among many other things. It was a challenge analyzing all of the samples on their own, when perhaps they would have been able to collect and analyze samples as a group with an in-person class.

Though the course was a success and students did seem to enjoy it, some level of disappointment was inevitable. One student shared, “the forestry community is that, a community and over the course of our undergraduate career we have all become close and everybody was looking forward to not only the aspect of learning but the social aspect of this course, one last MSU forestry hoorah, and unfortunately we were unable to have that experience.”

In a time filled with great uncertainty, providing the best student experience remains MSU Forestry’s number one priority. We will continue to work on ways to make the best of this situation and ensure the best possible education for future spartan alumni.

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